“Playful Learning”

According to Peter Gray, in his article, Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence, education is essential to the human condition and people everywhere depend for their survival on skills, knowledge, and ideas passed from generation to generation; and such passing along is, by definition, education. Because of education, we are the benefactors (and the victims) of the inventions and ideas of our ancestors. This is true of hunter-gatherer cultures too. Hunter-gatherer adults, however, do not concern themselves much with their children’s education. They assume that children will learn what they need to know through their own, self-directed exploration and play, according to the article. Peter Gray suggests that hunter-gatherers promoted, through cultural means, the playful side of their human nature and this made possible their egalitarian, nonautocratic, intensely cooperative ways of living. Hunter-gatherer bands, with their fluid membership, are likened to social-play groups, which people could freely join or leave. They maintain playful attitudes in their hunting, gathering, and other sustenance activates, partly by allowing each person to choose when, how much they would engage in activates. Our culture, when we think of education we think primarily of schooling, not of play. Schools, even more than most adult workplaces, operate through hierarchy and exercise of power, which is the opposite of play. The teacher is boss, and the students must do as they are told, according to the article. Gray explains in his article that by law, in our culture, are required to attend school, which deprives them of the power to quit. Little wonder children find it almost impossible to bring their playful instincts to this kind of education. In contract, among hunter-gatherers, play is the foundation for education. We speak of “training” children, just as we speak of training horses. Our manner of talking and thinking about parenting suggests that we own our children, much as we own our domesticated plants and livestock, and we control how they grow and behave. Training requires suppression of the trainee’s will and hence suppression of play. Hunter-gatherers, in their world, all animals and plants are wild and free. Young plants and animals grow on their own, guided by internal forces, making their own decisions. Hunter-gatherers take this general approach towards child care and education. Each young organism depends, of course, on its environment, but its way of using that environment comes from within itself. One of the means by which children use the cultural substrate to promote their own development is play, according to Gray.

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